I exited the same highway, but in a different state, in a different city, mirroring a different corner of the country, and found an empty parking spot suspiciously close to the venue.
Suspicious, because the first time I saw him two decades ago on a cold, dumping rain night on 5th Street in Seattle, I’d been grateful to find a street parking spot sprinting distance from the theatre.
He’d walked onstage that drenched Pacific Northwest evening and played the songs that inspired me to be a songwriter, songs emblazoned on one of my favorite albums, songs that had found their tribe. I’d left the theatre, all 25 years of me, got back on the highway, and started down a twenty year stretch of road paved and repaved by that wet, magical evening on 5th Street.
Maybe I could find my own place to stand and sing.
Maybe he was showing me how to get there.
I never really thought I’d meet him, or write songs with him, or go on tour with him, or call him a good friend.
Or that I’d never hear from him again.
We had some great times.
I’d reached out to him over the last several years, but had been confused by the unreturned calls, the unanswered texts, the unacknowledged emails. I knew he was still breathing, because I’d seen his name every so often on venue marquees in my hometown.
I’d drive by those marquees and replay movie scenes in my mind, trying to stop the frame on the moment our friendship derailed, but all I could find was laughter and music.
Something must have gone wrong between us, something I couldn’t place.
So I was surprised yesterday when I got a text from his guitar player. I’d had a great time hanging out with this guy when they’d stayed at my house years ago. They happened to be in town last night for the final performance of their tour, celebrating 20 years since the release of the album that changed everything for them.
I also happened to be in town last night, before leaving this morning to head back to Idaho.
A backstage pass was waiting for me at the box office, and a few seconds after I pushed open the door, I heard a deep, gravely voice boom one of the inside-joke phrases born during our maiden tour together.
And there he was.
He asked me to step outside with him while he had a cigarette, and in the soft summer air settling under the incandescent bulb of the service entry, he started talking.
Within a few sentences, he’d already returned every unreturned call, acknowledged every unacknowledged text, and answered every unanswered email.
We are inherently the center of our own universes, even in times of absolute service and empathy. We see with our own eyes, we breathe with our our own lungs, we feel with our own heart.
And so we assume that our experience with the world is always about us.
He walked onstage last night and played the songs that inspired me to be a songwriter, songs emblazoned on one of my favorite albums, songs that had found their tribe. I left the theatre, pulled out of the parking spot suspiciously close to the venue, and looked in my rear view mirror at the twenty year stretch of road paved and repaved by a wet, magical evening on 5th Street.
He’d helped me find my own place to stand and sing.
That’s how I got here.
And I got back on the same highway, but in a different state, in a different city mirroring a different corner of the country, heading toward a mysterious future where everything and nothing will have changed, just like nothing and everything has changed since I first saw him two decades ago on a cold, dumping rain night in Seattle.